Hell’s Kitchen

Bet you thought Gordon Ramsay was in trouble for a minute (no surprise there). Nope, this isn’t the Hell’s Kitchen from the popular television reality show. Instead, this crime was named HK by the producers of Forensic Files (season 14 episode 3). The crime took place in the kitchen and it wasn’t bad cooking. After her supposed fall down a staircase, investigators took a close look at the kitchen  near the top of the stairs and decided things weren’t as they seemed. Speaking of television some pretty bad acting occurred during this investigation. That alone makes it worth viewing on youtube.

Special to the Mercury News. 5/16/2000 The Fitzhugh family picture given to the Mercury News by the husband of the murdered woman. L-R: Kristine Fitzhugh, Justin and John Fitzhugh (sons) and husband Kenneth Fitzhugh. The date of when this picture was taken is unknown.

Special to the Mercury News. 5/16/2000 The Fitzhugh family picture given to the Mercury News by the husband of the murdered woman. L-R: Kristine Fitzhugh, Justin and John Fitzhugh (sons) and husband Kenneth Fitzhugh. The date of when this picture was taken is unknown.

Palo Alto – California – May 5, 2000. A 9-1-1 operator received a phone call from Kenneth Fitzhugh pleading for help when he found his dead wife, Katherine Fitzhugh, at the bottom of a stairwell in their luxurious South Gate home. He claimed his wife was dead when he arrived at the house. 9-1-1 dispatched Sergeant Sandra Brown who arrived at the scene and was stunned by her find: Christine Fitzhugh was unconscious at the bottom of a stairwell leading to the basement, lying on her back with “blood all around her”…”Kenneth was covered in blood as well.”

This was no ordinary fall down a flight of stairs. The woman’s body was sprawled at the bottom of the stairwell, almost as if she’d been pushed or thrown. Two low-heeled, sensible shoes she’d supposedly been wearing were found at odd angles to her body, including one that seemed to be carefully placed on a step. Fitzhugh insisted that his wife fell over the stairs because of the low-heeled, sensible shoes she’d been wearing. Brown smelled a rat but she touched nothing and said nothing to Fitzhugh.

katWithin minutes city workers, such as the coroner, and investigators swarmed the scene. They too found Mrs. Fitzhugh’s body position and the amount of blood around her and on her head to be unusual, to say the least. They also noticed Fitzhugh’s strange affect. He wasn’t at all upset. He held conversations with them without any emotion, as if this sort of thing happened to him every day of the week.

The Fitzhughs were generally well-liked. Katherine was a bubbly, lovely lady and a music teacher at a local elementary school who loved her job. However (there’s always a however) all was not what it seemed with the Fitzhugh’s. For six years Katherine had been having an affair with a man named Robert Brown, early in her marriage to Fitzhugh. Both men knew that Katherine became pregnant with her firstborn son, Justin, probably by Brown. Remarkably, Fitzhugh had agreed to raise the child as his own. You have to give him credit for that.

Motive
mp_s1On May 5, 2000, Katherine informed both Fitzhugh and Brown that she was going to tell Justin the truth about his father upon his graduation from college. Why she would reveal that information after so many years to her well-adjusted boy is a mystery. Personally I think it was a bad move and not just because of the murder. According to police and prosecutors, Fitzhugh became infuriated and murdered Kristine. This may have been due to his own pride, or for appearances sake within the community. Who knows? A DNA blood test conducted by police after the murder indeed confirmed Brown as Justin’s biological father. Oopsie. In fact during his interrogation, Fitzhugh made the comment, “Her older son,” rather than “our son.” Clearly there was animosity in the marriage concerning Justin, even though Fitzhugh had adopted the boy.

For his part, Justin had never suspected that Fitzhugh wasn’t his biological father. He did notice that he had a closer relationship with Brown than his younger brother John (who is Kenneth’s biological son), but never made the connection. Neither his mother nor his father gave him “special treatment.”

Investigation
During police interrogation, Fitzhugh attempted to convince police that it was his wife’s shoes that were the culprits. Watch   Fitzhugh’s over-acting (13:50 – 14:40) about Christine’s black shoes during the interview. It was rather comical and Fitzhugh didn’t convince anyone. He pounded the table furiously and shouted “the goddamned black shoes!” He might have been nominated for a Razz Award.

Luminol_molecule_ballA forensic investigation determined that Kristine had actually been killed in the kitchen and then repositioned at the bottom of the stairs in a staged accident. Investigators used luminol to discover a water-diluted substance on the floor in the kitchen, as if Fitzhugh had cleaned the floor. It was very likely blood although luminol can reveal such materials as semen, metals and proteins. It wasn’t very likely that in this case the police were looking at the latter. The stairs, wall, and floor were spattered with it.

Alibi
The slight problem with collaring Fitzhugh as a suspect was that he established an alibi by being out with friends running errands during the time of the murder.  However he made an excuse to stop by the house after getting a call on his mobile phone from Palo Alto Unified School District that Kristine had not come in to teach. He went inside and supposedly “discovered” that his wife was dead. He placed a frantic 9-1-1 phone call.

Trial
Fitzhugh told the court that he hadn’t known Justin was Brown’s biological son. Fitzhugh said he first found out that Brown was Justin’s biological father after he had been in jail eight months on charges of murdering his wife. He told the jury that he was “devastated” by the news. One reason Fitzhugh stated he never suspected Justin’s paternity was that Brown led a “gay lifestyle.” According to Fitzhugh, Brown disrespected women, and on one occasion, made it clear to Fitzhugh that he was interested in Fitzhugh. Despite the refusal, Fitzhugh said that the two men were extremely close until the family decided to end contact with Brown when he could not handle a drug problem. This much was true since Katherine had been to the rehabilitation clinic to visit Brown and agreed to discontinue the relationship. Fitzhugh, an only child, described Brown as “the brother I never had.” A very close brother, it would seem.

However there was more information that could have added to Fitzhugh’s rage and murderous intent; the family had been in a financial crisis before Fitzhugh killed his wife. At the time of Kristine Fitzhugh’s death, the Fitzhugh family’s finances were dwindling to near-poverty levels despite a Palo Alto-lifestyle facade, leaving them with liquid assets valuing no more than $20,000 despite spending near that much monthly. The money wasn’t there but the spending habits remained. Fitzhugh admitted to a significant fraud; he wrote in his tax forms that he earned $30,000 for the entire year when he actually earned $16,500 monthly. Fitzhugh explained if he reported his true income he would have to return to work and as it turned out, employment was no longer a priority. Naturally, he had other obligations. This man’s reasoning was about as sound as Ted Bundy’s relationships with women.

Verdict
Fitzhugh was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Fitzhugh was paroled in February 2012 after serving only two years on compassionate grounds due to Parkinsons Disease. He died in Palo Alto on October 27, 2012, at the age of 69. The wonderful irony of his evil was that even if he’d been found not guilty, Fitzhugh’s life was cut drastically short with the disease. A just punishment for a senseless crime.

 

 

 

 

 

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